More than two months since its Oct.1 launch and subsequent crash, Healthcare.gov — the online marketplace where Americans can purchase personal health insurance — has endured a shaky climb to stability. A new report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shows a total Obamacare enrollment of only 365,000 out of a total pool of more than 2.3 million.
Before the Oct. 1 launch, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had set a target enrollment goal of 7 million people by March of next year. While the gains have been steadily increasing following a Dec. 1 relaunch, which allowed 30,000 people to successfully enroll within the first two days, analysts are expressing mixed feelings whether Obamacare can get far enough off the ground to reach its intended goal.
“We think we're on track, and we will reach the total that we thought," Michael Hash, director of the office of health reform in the HSS, told CNBC. "Of course, we're only two and a half months into an open-enrollment period. We expect the bulk of enrollments will occur in the end of the open-enrollment period."
The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as Obamacare, requires uninsured Americans to have at least enrolled in health coverage by the end of March 2014, otherwise they must pay a penalty. Currently, 2,307,283 people are eligible to enroll in a coverage plan; however, only 16 percent (or 364,682) of those people have done so. Of the total people eligible, 26 percent (or an additional 803,077 people) have enrolled in the Medicaid option for the poor. The present report contains data on people who have both paid and not paid their first month premium.
"We know that they were still having problems with the website in a good chunk of November,” Matthew Eyles, an executive vice president at the consulting firm Avalere Health, told Reuters. “Reportedly the website issues are getting better and they are seeing large numbers of visitors coming back. But is it actually translating into enrollment?"
Hash and his fellow analysts speculate December will provide more telling data for how the online marketplaces are faring, as the bugs continue to get worked out and people are able to easily enroll in their particular coverage option. November, for instance, saw more than 100,000 enrollments. Meanwhile, just a month prior only 27,000 people signed up. Admittedly, this is due to both a growing confidence in the system and a genuine ironing out of the system’s various wrinkles.
Last week Healthcare.gov officials announced a 10 percent error rate for all enrollments in the federal Obamacare marketplace, on the heels of a 25 percent error rate for enrollees before the month of December. While a marked decline, as the total number of enrollees grows, unfortunately, these improvements may result in more people becoming affected.
"While we can now say that only one in 10 consumers is going to have a problem, that's still a lot of people," Cristine Vogel, an associate director in Navigant's health care practice, told CNBC. "As enrollment grows every day, this means we're adding more and more errors to the system. While we are decreasing the error rate, we're increasing the enrollment, which by design is increasing the number of people impacted."